Carvalho: We have a moral duty to tackle inconvenient truths

When Miami-Dade County Schools Superintendent Alberto Carvalho bounded onto the stage to address the National Hispanic Council breakfast at NSBA’s Annual Conference in Boston, he announced, “I know it’s Sunday morning. I shall not be preaching today.”

And then he proceeded to preach. Brother, did he preach.

“It is not acceptable to have certain segments of our nation more represented in jail than in college,” said Carvalho, the nation’s Superintendent of the Year in 2014. “It is not acceptable to be as a nation 26th or 30th in the world in reading or mathematics when we stand as the world’s economic super power. It is not acceptable for us to invest in schools in Afghanistan but let our own infrastructure rot away.

“As believers in this experiment called America, we have a moral duty to tackle the inconvenient truths of our America: issues of equity, of equality, of hope and opportunity,” he said. “I see you as school board members as the architects of hope, the tellers of truth who through your work and actions inspire the moral responsibilities of a nation that owes more to its children than we often represent in law or in investments.”

Describing himself as “an immigrant, an original unaccompanied minor,” Carvalho shared his story of rising from poverty and homelessness to leading the nation’s fourth-largest school system and becoming a recognized expert on school transformation and finance.

“I did not come to this country to scrub pots for the rest of my life, even through there is dignity in anything we do if we do it honestly with humanity, respect, responsibility, and transparency,” he said. “Blessings happen to those who have a dream, who don’t give up, who sit on the shoulders of parents and generations who kept hitting against that ceiling of opportunity, hoping for something better.”

Carvalho said his life travels from “the impossible to the inevitable” were based on three concepts.

“Belief that nothing is impossible, that in fact every single child possesses the God-given to conquer his or her own social conditions,” he said. “Belief that we can, that we must.”

Skill and knowledge are important, Carvalho said, particularly in this time in American history.

“We are a nation of immigrants – period. We are a nation that welcomes those who seek a better place – period. Either that or remove the Statue of Liberty from New York,” he said. “As educators who understand what it takes to transform a child’s life, we must speak up. Silence is not an option.

And Carvalho said the will to support belief and skills is too often lacking. “Any time is the right time to do the right thing for the right people – our children,” he said.

Telling of the transformation of the Miami-Dade County Schools over the past eight years of his superintendency, Carvalho laid out several challenges to his audience.

“School board members – if your superintendents do not move graduation rates 15 percent in a few years, if they do not increase AP, NAEP performance, fire them, for there are no excuses,” he said. “There is an urgency for now if you want more for your children. Some folks believe it takes years, decades to implement reform. We don’t have time. Charter schools, the private sector will take over what you do while you are waiting for the right time, the right investments, the right resources.

“Often what you do is under recognized and underappreciated,” he said. “(But) before we tell our story, we must do the work. You and I recognize there are so many pundits who talk so much about education, they actually believe they did something. They dare to criticize as though they could do better.

“We have not reached the promised land for our children. We may be delivering on the promise but we have not fulfilled the dream for every single child,” Carvalho said. “The time is now. You are the architects of that dream.

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